Furnishing Alcohol to Minors: California’s Limited Social Host Law Protects Victims of Underage DUIs

The problem of underage drinking is not new and, sadly, neither is the problem of underage drunk drivers causing serious accidents. However, it seems like only recently we have begun to ask the logical next question: How did they get the alcohol? As an Oakland DUI injury law firm, we believe this is a critical question. We also believe in holding adults accountable for accidents that occur because they were providing alcohol to minors.

Fremont Woman Arrested for Providing Alcohol to Teen Involved in Fatal DUI Crash
On Tuesday, as reported by ABC News, 42 year-old Tabassum Yousuf was arrested in Fremont on suspicion of felony involuntary manslaughter and a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a beercar.jpgminor. The charges relate to a fatal car accident in Fremont that claimed the life of a 17 year-old boy last year.

According to police, evidence suggests that Yousuf bought and furnished alcohol for a large party held at her home during the overnight hours of October 26 into October 27, 2013. Large amounts of alcohol were consumed at the event. Shortly after 1 A.M. on the 27th, three seventeen year olds who had attended the party crashed into a tree located near the intersection of Durham Road and Topaz Road. The front-seat passenger died at the scene.

Police arrested the 17 year-old driver. He was eventually convicted of felony drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. As authorities investigated further, they concluded Yousuf also bore responsibility for the crash because she had supplied alcohol at the party the teens had attended.

California Law on Providing Alcohol to Minors: Criminal & Civil “Social Host” Laws
California takes providing alcohol to minors very seriously. Section 25658 of the Business & Corporations Code makes providing alcohol to someone under age 21 a misdemeanor. If the alcohol is consumed by someone under age 21 who then causes great bodily injury or kills him/herself or anyone else, the provider is guilty of an additional misdemeanor.

winespill.pngIn addition to the criminal penalties, the adult also risks civil liability. Section 1714 of the Civil Code provides that people are responsible for their own acts as well as injuries caused to another due to his failure to use ordinary care. The Code specifically states that furnishing alcohol is not the proximate cause of any injury that stems from the resulting intoxication, instead the consumption of the alcohol is the cause of those injuries. This eliminates the “social host” doctrine.

However, Section (d) specifically makes an adult, including a parent/guardian, who furnishes alcohol in his/her own residence to someone the adult knows (or should have known) is under 21, can be held liable for injuries or deaths resulting from the intoxication of the younger individual. This brings back the social host rule for these specific circumstances. The rule is further clarified by the California Civil Jury Instructions 427 which reiterates the existence and elements of such a claim.

Two Lessons: Urging Responsible Hosting, Ensuring Accountability
We urge parents considering hosting an underage drinking party to reconsider. Likewise, adults hosting general parties involving alcohol must to take care regarding who consumes the alcohol. Serving someone under age 21 opens you up to criminal and potentially civil liability. If the minor goes on to injure or kill someone, via a DUI crash or otherwise, you may be liable for substantial civil damages.

On the opposite side of the equation – If you were injured or lost a relative in a crash caused by an intoxicated individual under age 21, you may have a civil claim against both the driver and the adult who supplied the alcohol, depending on the circumstances. Importantly, a settlement or verdict is only useful if you can collect on it and the adult is more likely to have sufficient insurance and/or assets to pay your claim.

Our DUI victims’ law firm in Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa represents the injured and the grieving. We work diligently to explore all potential avenues for recovery and to ensure our clients can actually collect on any judgment or settlement amount. Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Why 21? Exploring the Drinking Age and Its Impact on Drunk Driving Crashes
Additional Charges Brought In Case of Teenage Drinking and Fatal DUI

(Beer Photo by Jørgen Schyberg; Wine Photo by Ryan Gageler)